Debra D'Angelo found out about her daughter over Facebook. She saw that an activist had attached herself to an anchor chain on a Shell Arctic support vessel to stop it from leaving Bellingham and knew. "I'm like, 'It's Chiara. Shit.'"
On Friday night, Chiara D'Angelo, a 20-year-old Western Washington University student, peeled off from her group of friends on C Street. When they asked her where she was going, she said, "You'll see!" Not long after, between 6 and 7 p.m., she had clambered up an anchor chain on the Arctic Challenger in a dress and a harness. As of the publication time of this post, she's still there after more than 12 hours, having been joined by another activist named Matt Fuller, who traded shifts with a partner overnight.
Debra D'Angelo's car had broken down, so she borrowed a friend's from Bainbridge Island and soon joined a small group of activists, mostly Western Washington University kids, huddled on a nearby Bellingham beach in blankets and sleeping bags. It was a little overwhelming. Her son, Enzo, was already in Olympia for a Black Lives Matter protest, and there didn't seem to be a lot of forethought about this one. Chiara's mother cried when she found out. Her phone hadn't stopped ringing in her pocket when everyone else learned about Chiara, too.
"When you have children saying what's happening is not okay, as a parent you can't stay in denial because it's their place, and their future," D'Angelo said. "She's really intelligent and bright and informed, and informed me, and therefore, what can I do?"
This wasn't Chiara's first direct action. Last year, she climbed 60 feet up a Douglas fir to protest the construction of a mall on Bainbridge Island. And at 2 a.m., when it was getting colder, and the waters looked choppy, and both of Chiara's support vessels had been escorted away from the anchor chain by the Coast Guard, everyone on the beach seemed to know how Chiara would be thinking anyway. They knew Chiara would want to stay on the chain until 4 a.m. and probably wouldn't budge until then, no matter how uncomfortable the harness got.
The one thing Chiara didn't have: a cell phone. So as the minutes passed on the activists' dying devices, they had to come up with a plan. They had a dinghy, a kayak, and a sailboat. But the Coast Guard was monitoring the situation, and some of the activists already received citations for violating the safety zone to deliver food, water, long underwear, and Depends to Chiara.
A little after 3 a.m., two young activists slipped into the dinghy and passed underneath the pier toward the Arctic Challenger. They were to hand off a two-way radio to Chiara and another protester who had joined her. Could they do it without getting arrested? More importantly: Could they do it without flipping the boat? One activist named Raichle Dunkild had gone out on the dinghy earlier and warned the group how lurching it felt as the tide came in.
The remainder of the group shivered on the beach, making small talk and trying not to think about the worst. A crescent moon had lit up the sky earlier in the evening, but now any reflection of the sun was muffled by thick, gray clouds. After what felt like an eternity, the walkie talkie crackled. "It's Chiara!" The group yipped and howled. "That makes my night so good!"
Someone handed the walkie talkie to Debra. "I'm proud of your bravery, honey," she said, and passed it back.
UPDATE: It's been 42 hours since Chiara D'Angelo climbed up the anchor chain on Friday night, and as of Sunday afternoon, she's still attached. Activists say her walkie talkie is no longer working. Matt Fuller, the 37-year-old activist who joined Chiara earlier, came down Sunday morning of his own volition.
Debra D'Angelo went out on a zodiac early Sunday morning to try and make contact with her daughter. She was able to communicate using a bullhorn. D'Angelo said that her daughter was terrified because she said she had been told—it's unclear by whom—that the crew of the Arctic Challenger was going to move the boat even if she was still hanging on.
"I was yelling back, 'That's not going to happen! Nobody's going to put you at risk like that!'" she said. D'Angelo was able to console her daughter, but said that she was then cited by the US Coast Guard for violating the 100-yard safety perimeter around the vessel.
The Coast Guard confirmed that four people were cited early this morning for violating the safety zone, and Debra D'Angelo was on a vessel whose operator received a citation. (The Coast Guard did not say whether D'Angelo had been cited herself.) Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer said that the Coast Guard continues to monitor the situation with the Bellingham police, but has no plans to arrest.
"I know that she's being really strong," Debra D'Angelo said of her daughter. Chiara had spoken to a doctor last night, she added, and it's clear that there's no dehydration or any other medical issue at hand. "I feel confident about that and trust the statement she's making," D'Angelo said. "The integrity of the action I trust."
Bellingham #ShellNo activists plan to demonstrate against Arctic drilling with a flotilla of kayaks at 4 p.m. Jill MacIntyre Witt, an organizer with 350 Bellingham, said Chiara plans to stay attached to the anchor chain all day.
UPDATE: D'Angelo voluntarily came down off the anchor chain at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, 63 hours (including three nights) after she started her protest on the vessel. The Coast Guard did not issue charges, but D'Angelo said she received a trespass warning from the Bellingham police.
D'Angelo told The Stranger by phone that she decided to come down after learning that the Arctic Challenger wouldn't be moving for at least another two days. Two days is all D'Angelo had left in her body, she said, and she wanted to regroup and plan ahead.
"I want [people] to take away that we are the people we've been waiting for," D'Angelo said. "It sounds corny, but it's true. There are these spaces—sometimes really uncomfortable spaces—and it's really important that people who understand the issues of climate change step up, and step into those spaces, and say enough is enough."
This post has been updated.